banana postharvest ripening manual - …

Published by the author. ©The author 2012. All rights reserved. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study, research, criticism or review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without written permission. Inquiries should be addressed to the author at [email protected]. Banana Postharvest Ripening Manual Charles S Whitehead

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Published by the author. ©The author 2012. All rights reserved. Apart from

any fair dealing for the purpose of private study, research, criticism or review,

no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or

transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,

photocopying, recording, or otherwise without written permission. Inquiries

should be addressed to the author at [email protected].

Banana Postharvest

Ripening Manual

Charles S Whitehead



1. Taxonomy 1 2. Botany 1

3. Nutrition 4 4. Harvesting and quality indices 5

5. Physiological disorders 6

6. Precooling and storage 7 7. Ethylene and ripening 8



1. Ethylene 15

2. Ripening rooms 16

3. Ripening protocol 17

4. Uneven ripening 19





1. Taxonomy

Musa spp., Musaceae

2. Botany

Musa species originated in a region stretching from Southeast

Asia to northern Australia and are now widely distributed

throughout the tropics and subtropics. There are two types of

edible fruit in the genus Musa that are distinguished on the

basis of how they are consumed. Dessert bananas are usually

consumed raw as fresh fruit, while plantains are starchy

bananas that are usually cooked prior to consumption.

Modern edible bananas are seedless (parthenocarpic, i.e.

developed without fertilization) fruit that derive mainly from

two species, viz. Musa acuminata Colla (syn. M. cavendishii

Lamb. Ex Paxt., M. chinensis Sweet, M. nana, M. zebrina Van

Houtee ex Planch.) and Musa balbisiana Colla. M. acuminata

is the wild, edible banana from which most dessert bananas

derive. The plant is either diploid (normal 2 sets of

chromosomes) or triploid (3 sets of chromosomes). The fruit

of M. balbisiana is seeded and therefore unpalatable.

However, the plant is valued as a parent in the breeding of

disease-resistant edible bananas. Hybrids between M.

acuminata and M. balbisiana are sterile and thus bear


seedless fruit that are characterized by a slower conversion of

starch to sugar. Plantains generally have some parentage

from M. balbisiana. A simple method was designed to

distinguish hybrids and represent parentage by assigning a

two, three or four letter designation consisting of A’s and B’s

to each type. AA represents the M. acuminata genome and

BB the M. balbisiana genome. Bananas are therefore referred

to by their ploidy level (number of chromosome sets) and the

relative contributions of the M. acuminata and M. balbisiana

genomes to their genetic makeup. Using their genomic

composition and ploidy levels, bananas are classified as Musa

AA, AAA, AB, AAB, ABB, BB, BBB etc. For example, Sucrier is

referred to as Musa AA since it is a diploid of M. acuminata,

while all the varieties in the Cavendish group (e.g. cv.’s Dwarf

Cavendish, Giant Cavendish, Williams, Grand Nain, Valery and

Red) and Gros Michel are triploids of M. acuminata referred to

as Musa AAA. Examples of hybrids between M. acuminata

and M. balbisiana are Ney Poovan (Musa AB), Plantain (Musa

AAB) and Bluggoe (Musa ABB).

The banana plant is a large perennial monocotyledonous herb

with a trunk-like pseudostem (false stem) formed by a spirally

encircling aggregation of leaf petioles. The true stem of the

plant is a fleshy underground rhizome (or corm) which

produces the leaves and suckers or vegetative shoots. The


plant has 5 to 15 leaves that

are up to 2.7 meters long

and 60 cm wide. The

inflorescence is a spike which

originates from the apical

meristem (growth tip) of the

rhizome. It grows through

the centre of the pseudostem

and emerges at the top of

the plant in the form of a

large, purple, tapered bud.

In some types the

inflorescence remains erect

after emerging from the

pseudostem, but generally it

bends downward to produce

upside down pendant fruit

bunches. A banana inflores-

Figure 1: Longitudinal and

cross sections through a banana pseudostem.

Figure 2: Banana flowers on an influorescence.


cence bears female flowers on the lower portion (first 5 to 15

rows of the stem-end), neuter flowers with aborted ovaries

and stamens in the middle and male flowers enclosed in

bracts at the tip. The flowers are negatively geotropic (grows

away from gravity) and turn upright during the first few weeks

after bud opening. A female flower consists of one large

inferior, epigynous ovary (floral parts attached to or near the

summit of the ovary), a style with a six-lobed stigma, stamens

that do not develop fully, and a perianth. The fruit is formed

from the non-pollinated ovary of the female flower and is a

parthenocarpic berry. These fruits are arranged spirally in a

variable number of ‘hands’ along the floral axes. Each hand

consists of two transverse rows of fruits known as ‘fingers’.

Fruits fill to harvest maturity in about 3-4 months after the

flowers first appear. Bananas are climacteric fruit.

3. Nutrition

The nutritional value* of fresh banana fruit per 100 g edible

portion is:

Water 75% Calories 89 kcal

Protein 1.1% Fat 0.33%

Sugars (ripe) 12.2%

Starch (ripe) 5.4% Fiber 2.6%

*USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 21 (2008), cgi-bin/list_


Minerals (mg):

Calcium 5 Iron 0.26

Magnesium 27 Phosphorous 22

Potassium 385

Sodium 1

Vitamins (mg): Vitamin A 64 IU

Vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.03 Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 0.07

Vitamin C 8.7

Niacin 0.67

4. Harvesting and Quality Indices

Bananas are harvested when mature but still green and

ripened by treatment with ethylene at the destination

markets. In bananas, maturity is indicated by the plumpness

of the fingers. Bananas are considered to be at optimum

maturity when the fruit have filled out to 75% of their full size

(full three-quarters) and the ridges have become less

prominent. Bunch age is also used to determine optimum

maturity. Bunch age is measured from the time that the first

hand is exposed. Although maturity is more a matter of age

than size, callipers can be used to measure the diameter of

the middle finger of the second hand from the stem-end of

the bunch. The minimum diameter for full three-quarter size

is 32 mm (1¼ inch or 40 thirty seconds of an inch) and the


maximum diameter is 36 mm (1 inch or 44 thirty seconds of

an inch). Light three-quarter size ranges from 29-32 mm in

diameter. Fruit with a calliper grade of over 37 cm (full size)

should be handled with great care because the peel can easily

split during handling. Such fruit should not be packed for

export. Eating quality is determined by texture and flavour

(sweetness and aroma), and is unfavourably affected by

starchiness and off-flavours. Visual quality is determined by

colour, size, shape, gloss and freedom from outwardly visible

defects, damage, scars,

spray residues, latex

stains and decay. The

peel of fruit left to ripen

on the plant often split

and the fruit have poor


5. Physiological Disorders

Bananas are tropical fruit and suffer chilling injury when

exposed to temperatures below 13°C. The severity of this

injury depends on the temperature, duration of exposure,

cultivar, maturity at harvest and production area. Symptoms

of chilling injury include surface discoloration of the skin, a

dull yellow or grey-yellow skin colour in ripe fruit and

browning of the subepidermal vascular bundles of the peel


Figure 3: Banana calliper.


(green and ripe fruit).

Prolonged exposure to low

temperatures can cause

flesh browning, off-flavours

and failure to ripen properly.

To avoid chilling injury,

bananas are stored and

shipped at a temperature of

13-14°C. The presence of ethylene increases the

susceptibility of bananas to chilling injury, while storage in

MAP and CA reduces the incidence of chilling injury.

6. Precooling and Storage

The optimum transport and storage conditions for mature

green bananas are 13-14°C and 90-95% relative humidity.

Although precooling is not generally done, it is advisable to

cool down fruit that are exposed to temperatures above 30°C

soon after harvest to remove field heat. Failure to do so can

irreversibly inhibit ripening and result in heat damage

indicated by failure to degreen properly, excessive pulp

softening of green fruit, boiled appearance of the pulp and

incomplete starch to sugar conversion. In addition,

insufficient field heat removal or failure to precool can result

in failure to reach the desired storage temperature, heat

accumulation in the cool room and thus reduced longevity.

Figure 4. Chilling injury in

banana fruit.


Precooling is done by forced-air or evaporative cooling.

Different banana cultivars respond differently to CA

conditions. Generally, storage in CA at 2-5% O2, 2-5% CO2,

90-95% RH and 12-15°C in the absence of ethylene can

extend the postharvest-life of mature green bananas to 4-6

weeks. After storage, such fruit can still be ripened to good

quality by treatment with ethylene. Excessively high CO2

concentrations can be toxic to bananas and cause pulp

softening of green fruit, internal browning and off flavour.

The use of CA during ocean transport has made it possible to

harvest bananas at the full mature stage. Bananas also

respond well to MAP and green bananas can be stored in MAP

at 13-14°C for more than 30 days. Ripe bananas can be

stored in MAP at 13-14°C for up to 7 days.

Ethylene and Ripening

Bananas are climacteric fruit that exhibit typical climacteric

patterns in both their respiration and ethylene production

rates during ripening. Since exposure to ethylene accelerates

ripening in these fruit, bananas must be kept apart from other

ethylene-producing fruit such as mangoes and melons.

Bananas are harvested when mature but still green and

ripened at the destination market by treatment with 100-150

μL L-1 (ppm) ethylene at 15-20°C (depending on the required


ripening rate) and 90-95% RH. Careful attention should be

paid to temperature and CO2 management during ethylene

treatment and ripening. To avoid suppression of ethylene

action, CO2 levels should never be allowed to exceed 1%. In

CA, the low O2 and high CO2 levels suppress ethylene

production by the fruit. Treatment with 1-MCP greatly delays

ripening of green fruit as indicated by a delay in softening and

colour change.


Fruit ripening is done in specialized airtight rooms equipped

with systems and equipment to control ethylene, CO2,

temperature and RH. Air circulation and distribution in the

room must be adequate and efficient to evenly distribute

ethylene and effectively

remove respiration heat. In

ordinary ripening rooms (cold

rooms with circulating air)

boxes are open-stacked

(pigeonhole stacking) on

pallets to allow sufficient air

circulation around the

product. Ripening with Figure 5: Open-stacked pal-lets.


forced-air (pressure ripen-

ing) is by far the most

reliable way of ensuring that

the product temperature

remains constant and that

ethylene is distributed

evenly through the boxes.

Ripening rooms must be

designed with wide doors and passages to allow easy access

for forklifts. Since ripening is done at 15-21°C, isolation of the

room is not as critical as in rooms used for cold storage if the

rooms are installed inside a temperature controlled ripening

facility. Sufficient space should be available in the room to

allow operators to inspect the product with ease.

Ripening is usually done at temperatures higher than the

optimum storage and transport temperatures. During

ripening, the room temperature is gradually increased from

the storage temperature to the specified ripening

temperature, after which the temperature is held constant

until the required stage of ripening is reached. The higher the

temperature within the physiological range, the faster is the

rate of ripening and the shorter is the time period for which

the product is held at the ripening temperature. Thereafter,

the temperature is lowered again to the desired storage

Figure 6: Forced-air ripening room.


temperature. It is essential to monitor the pulp temperature of

the fruit continually during ripening, since the rate of ripening

is to a large extent controlled by the pulp temperature. Since

the rate of respiration increases during the climacteric stage

of ripening, heat production will increase during this stage

also and sufficient air circulation must be provided to

effectively remove the extra heat. Forced-air systems usually

provide sufficient air circulation to ensure adequate

temperature control. However, the efficiency of a forced-air

system depends on the ease with which the air is forced

through the packages. For example, some forced-air ripening

rooms are designed to force the air vertically from the bottom

to the top of the stack (through the height of the stack). Due

to the high resistance to airflow in these vertical systems, heat

removal and ethylene distribution is much less efficient

(causing heat damage and uneven ripening) than in systems

that employ a horizontal air flow in which the path of air flow

(the width of the stack), and thus the resistance to airflow, is

much less. Horizontal airflow systems are, therefore, much

more effective and reliable to accurately control fruit ripening

than vertical systems. A relative low rate of airflow is required

to evenly distribute ethylene in the ripening room. However,

the flow rate required for heat removal is much higher than

for ethylene distribution. The pressure difference between the

two sides of the stack must be at least 250 Pa to


accommodate both processes. Airflow for produce with a high

rate of respiration such as bananas must be between 0.35 and

1 L sec-1 kg-1. These flow rates are more than adequate for

heat removal and ethylene distribution and to ensure

sufficient air movement around the pallet stacks and through

the boxes where the resistance to air flow is highest.

Ripening is usually done at a RH ranging from 90 to 95%. A

lower RH results in excessive moisture and weight loss. Low

humidity in the ripening room also causes desiccation of the

fruit peel resulting in a dull colour and blackening of damaged

parts of the peel surface. Humidifiers could be used to raise

the RH in the room atmosphere to the required level. Wet coil

refrigeration units can also be used to keep the humidity high.

The strength of fibreboard boxes must be sufficient to

withstand the deterioration caused by moisture absorption.

Figure 7: Comparison of the control of banana pulp

temperature in vertical (left) and horizontal (right) forced-air systems.

a b


As soon as the product has

reached the desired ripen-

ing temperature, ethylene

is released into the ripening

room from pressurized gas

cylinders or a generator

that converts ethanol to

ethylene. Ethylene stimu-

lates fruit ripening at

concentrations ranging from

0.1 to 1.0 µL L-1. However,

the ethylene concentration

in the ripening room is set

at around 100 µL L-1 (ppm) to ensure that all the fruit are

constantly saturated with ethylene for the duration of the

exposure period and to make provision for possible leakages

from the room. After the product has been exposed to

ethylene for 24 hours, the ripening room is ventilated to get

rid of excess CO2 in the atmosphere, since ethylene action is

inhibited by high levels of CO2. Levels higher than 1% inhibit

the effect of ethylene in initiating ripening. After ethylene

exposure, the room is ventilated continuously at a rate of 1

room volume every 2 to 6 hours to maintain the CO2 levels

below 5%. If the room is not equipped with a continuous

Figure 8: Pressurized ethylene gas cylinders.


ventilation system, ventilation can be done by opening the

door for 10 to 20 minutes once or twice a day while the

refrigeration fans are running. However, this practice can

result in undesirable temperature fluctuations that can

interfere with the exact control of the ripening process. Once

the product has reached the desired colour or stage of

ripening, the room temperature is lowered again to the

normal storage temperature before the product is removed to

storage, transported to the market or processed.

Banana ripening rooms must be cleaned and disinfected

regularly to prevent infection of the fruit. Room surfaces must

be scrubbed down with a suitable disinfectant as prescribed

by the manufacturer.


Quickly load product in the ripening room and

gradually raise the flesh temperature to the ripening level.

Temperature monitoring is critical. Flesh temperature

must be accurately maintained during ripening. Treat with ethylene for 24-48 hours.

After this, ventilate continuously.

Lower the flesh temperature to storage temperature when the desired ripening stage is reached.




Fruit ripening is a genetically programmed process that is

controlled by plant hormones and accelerated or retarded by

certain environmental factors. Plant hormones control the

expression or suppression of specific genes involved in these

processes. Some plant hormones delay ripening , while others

such as ethylene accelerate the process in climacteric

commodities such as bananas. Ethylene is a unique gaseous

plant hormone. It stimulates respiration, accelerates fruit

softening as a result of cell wall hydrolysis due to the

stimulation of the transcription of cell wall degrading enzymes

such as polygalacturonase, causes degreening due to the

stimulation of chlorophyll breakdown, causes decompart-

mentation of the cell due an increase in membrane

permeability, changes the metabolism of organic compounds

such as carbohydrates, organic acids and proteins and

stimulates the production of aroma volatiles.

In climacteric fruit ethylene production follows a similar

pattern to the climacteric pattern of respiration. During the

pre-climacteric phase, ethylene is produced at very low levels,

followed by a sharp increase just prior to or during the

climacteric rise in respiration to reach a peak just before,


coincident with or just after the peak in respiration rate. Many

researchers maintain that ethylene initiates the changes

associated with ripening during the pre-climacteric phase as

soon as the sensitivity to ethylene starts to increase.

Bananas are climacteric fruit and as such show a marked

increase in ethylene production during ripening concomitant

with the climacteric rise in respiration rate. Ripening of

bananas is accelerated by treatment with 100 µL L-1 (ppm)

ethylene at 14-18°C for 24 hours after harvest. Careful

attention should be paid to temperature and CO2 management

during ethylene treatment and ripening. Exposure to ethylene

stimulates ethylene production by the fruit and removal of

ethylene from the storage atmosphere increases storage-life.

In CA, the low O2 and high CO2 levels suppress ethylene

production by the fruit. Treatment with 1-MCP greatly delays

ripening of banana fruit as indicated by a delay in softening

and colour change. It also reduces chilling injury.

Ripening Rooms

Bananas should preferably be ripened in a forced air room to

prevent heat build-up and facilitate even distribution of

ethylene gas. The refrigeration equipment must be adequate

to raise or lower the temperature between 14˚C and 18˚C in


a few hours. Air circulating fans must be strong enough to

provide an air flow rate of 0.02-0.06 m3 per minute per kg

fruit in the room. Although ripened can be ripened in non-

forced air store rooms, it is best to use forced air rooms for

this purpose since they provide for more accurate temperature

control and even distribution of ethylene in the room. When

ordinary cold stores are used, boxes should be stacked in an

open stacking pattern such as pigeonhole stacking where an

open spaces are left in the stack to improve air flow during

ripening and storage. It is also important to leave adequate

space between the pallets to allow for unrestricted air

circulation since cooling of the pallet is mostly by conduction.

Ripening Protocol

Upon arrival at the ripening room, boxes should be selected

from the middle of each palet and the pulp temperature of a

fruit from each box checked (14˚C). The stage of maturity

should be determined visually or with a calliper. Individual

fingers should be between light three-quarter and full three-

quarter size. Over-sized fruit ripens rapidly and should be

handled with great care because the peel can easily split

during handling, while under-sized fruit will not ripen



After determining the maturity, pallets are placed in the

ripening room and the air circulation system turned on. The

fruit is heated or cooled to the desired ripening temperature

(14ºC-18ºC, do not exceed 20ºC pulp temperature during the

ripening cycle). Temperature controls the rate of ripening and

high temperatures will result in “green” ripening, i.e. softening

of the pulp without degreening of the peel. As soon as the

pulp has reached the set temperature, ethylene is introduced

into the ripening room with an ethylene generator or bottled

ethylene to maintain the levels at 100 ppm for a duration of

24 hours. After ethylene treatment the room should be vented

to get rid of excess ethylene and CO2. Thereafter, the rooms

should be vented at least two times per day for 20 minutes or

continuous with exhaust fans to keep the CO2 levels below

1%. CO2 levels above 1% will inhibit the ripening process. the

fruit should be kept at the required temperature until it has

reached the desired stage of ripeness. Pulp temperatures

must be recorded throughout the room on a daily basis and

the relative humidity should be kept at 90-95% throughout

the ripening cycle. Once the fruit has reached the desired

level of ripeness (desired firmness), it should be cooled down

to 14ºC to slow ripening, and placed in a cold store at 14ºC.

Ripened fruit are less prone to chilling injury than unripe fruit.

Further ripening after storage can be controlled by time and


temperature. The higher the pulp temperature, the shorter is

the time required to reach eat ripeness. The pulp temperature

should never be allowed to rise above 20˚C during ripening.

Uneven Ripening

Uneven ripening in a box, pallet or load is a common problem

encountered in fruit that are ripened after harvest. The most

common causes of uneven ripening are improper ripening

techniques, insufficient ethylene levels, incorrect exposure

time, incorrect ripening temperature, RH below 90%,

temperatures above 21˚C during ripening, improper air

circulation, excessive holding periods before the start of the

ripening cycle, variable fruit age, variable fruit maturity, wide



Fruit pulp temperature (°C)

Days in the ripening room

1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th

4 days 18

ethylene 18 16.5 15.5




5 days 16.5

ethylene 16.5 16.5 16.5 15.5




6 days 16.5

ethylene 16.5 15.5 15.5 15.5 14.5




7 days 15.5

ethylene 15.5 15.5 15.5 15.5 14.5 14.5




8 days 14.5

ethylene 14.5 14.5 14.5 14.5 14.5 14.5 14.5


variations in pulp temperature upon arrival at the ripening

room, exposure to temperatures below 12˚C prior to ripening

and exposure to extreme high temperatures prior to ripening

(heat damage).


The most widespread postharvest diseases of bananas are

anthracnose, crown rot, cigar-end rot and stem-end rot.

Anthracnose is an important disease of bananas and is caused

by the fungus Colletotrichum musae. On green fruit, the

symptoms are large, brown to black lesions, while on ripening

fruit the symptoms are numerous small dark spots that grow

together and become sunken. The fungus gains entry via

injuries sustained during harvesting and handling and causes

the large lesions on green fruit. This decay can spread into

the pulp. The small round lesions on ripe fruit are the result

of infections that occur in the field and develop as the fruit

ripens. Crown rot is the principle postharvest disease of

bananas caused by one or more pathogenic fungi which infect

the cut surface of the hand (crown) from where it can spread

into the neck of the finger. Fungi that have been associated

with crown rot include Colletotrichum musae, Ceratocystis

paradoxa (syn. Thielaviopsis paradoxa), Verticillium

theobromae and Acremonium spp., Acremonium strictum,


Cephalosporium spp., Fusarium moniliforme, F. pallidoroseum,

Fusarium spp., Lasiodiplodia theobromae and Nigrospora spp.

Cigar-end rot is caused by Verticillium theobromae and

Trachyspaera fructigena. It occurs at the tip-end of the fruit

and has the appearance of the ashy end of a burnt cigar.

Stem-end rot by is caused by Ceratocystis paradoxa and

Colletotrichum musae which invades the fruit through the cut-

end or stem-end of the hand.

Proper control of postharvest decay should start in the

plantation and continue right until the fruit is sold to the final

consumer. Appropriate pre- and postharvest sanitation,

fungicide application and handling practices must be

implemented to reduce the amount of decay found on fruit in

packed boxes. Most postharvest banana diseases originate in

the field from infected plant debris. It is therefore important

not to use banana leaves as padding for trailers to transport

bunches to the packing shed and to avoid carrying debris to

the shed. Dead flower remains must also be removed before

the bunches are carried into the packing shed. After washing

to remove dirt and latex, bananas should be treated with a

fungicide such as thiabendazole or imazalil prior to packing.

Fungicides can be applied as a spray, cascade or dip.